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Birth of a Princess

Elizabeth I was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. When the little Princess was born on  the seventh of September, 1533, few predicted a glittering life ahead of her. Her birth was a great disappointment to her father, and a political disaster for her mother and all her supporters.  For years, Henry's main goal in life had been to father a son to succeed him to the throne of England. Despite twenty years of marriage to the Spanish Catherine of Aragon, and the birth of several children, by 1533, Henry had only one living legitimate child, a daughter, Mary.  Although there was no law in Tudor England preventing the accession of a woman to the throne as there was in France, the rule of a woman was considered undesirable.  Not only was it thought that a woman was incapable of ruling a kingdom, there were also practical considerations that made female sovereignty problematic, such as her marriage, and the problem of the role her husband should have, as well as the risks of childbirth. It was unlikely that Henry would ever have a son by Catherine of Aragon (she was older than him, and her child-bearing days were numbered) and this troubled him.  Also he had fallen deeply in love with the young and dazzling Anne Boleyn and wanted to make her his bride. To marry Anne,  he had to have his marriage to Catherine annulled. The power to annul marriages lay with the Pope, and Catherine had powerful family connections. She was the aunt of the great Emperor, Charles V, and the Pope could not afford to offend Charles by granting Henry his annulment.  Henry and his advisors found the answer in breaking with the Catholic Church completely, and establishing an independent Church of England. This had important doctrinal differences to Catholicism, but Henry's prime concern was ousting the power of the Pope. In many ways the new English Church remained essentially Catholic. But the change of official religion had far reaching effects on England.  For centuries, monks, nuns and friars had been an integral aspect of English life, but with the old Church, this way of life came to an end. The monasteries were  closed, and the monks, nuns, and friars, were forced into the towns and cities.  Although they were granted a life pension and many found a new livelihood, others fell into poverty and became beggars.

Now that Henry was Supreme Head of the Church in England, he could get his annulment. In January 1533 he married Anne Boleyn, who was already expecting his child. In the July of that year, although heavily pregnant, Anne was given a magnificent coronation. She  and Catherine of Aragon were the only ones of Henry's wives to be formally crowned Queen of England. Both Henry and Anne believed with their whole heart that the child she was expecting was a boy as philosophers and astronomers assured the king that this time he would have a son.

But the baby born proved to be a girl. There was little celebration at baby Elizabeth's birth. Anne Boleyn was unpopular. Many blamed her for the religious changes in the land and for the king's rejection of Catherine, who they had loved. However, Elizabeth was given a magnificent Christening at Greenwich when she was only three days old.

While Anne was still Queen of England, Elizabeth's life was comfortable. She had been granted her own household at the Royal Palace of Hatfield, and her mother saw to it that she was well cared for. Only the heir to the throne could be prince or princess in England, and as an illegitimate offspring, Mary was no longer in line to the throne. This was a cruel twist of fate, and Mary understandably resented having to serve the daughter of the woman who had replaced her mother. Elizabeth's governess at this time was Margaret, Lady Bryan. She was Elizabeth's chief carer and responsible for her well-being. It was customary for royal children to live apart from their parents, although Anne ensured that she saw Elizabeth regularly.

Had Elizabeth been a boy, or had Anne borne Henry a son in the years immediately following her daughter's birth, then Anne's fate would have been very different. Some time after Elizabeth's birth, she suffered a miscarriage, and gave premature birth to a dead male child. When Catherine of Aragon died, Henry was free to dispose of Anne without facing petitions to have him take Catherine back. Anne's days were numbered. She was accused of witchcraft, adultery, and incest, and was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. She was put on trial and found guilty on all accounts, and condemned to death. Anne requested to be put to death by the sword and a swordsman was brought over from France. Anne was beheaded on Tower Green on the 19 of May of 1536. Elizabeth was only two and a half years old.

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